And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. -John 14:16-18
Recently I’ve watched two different friends my age piece their lives back together after the death of a spouse. No one is prepared to lose a husband or wife in their 30s with young children to parent and so many years of life ahead of them. The person they depended on most was instantly gone. The deep sense of absence that they feel overshadows everything and yet I see signs of hope as they find new ways of living and, thankfully, in both cases, find the love and provision of God in new ways.
I wonder if the disciples felt similarly as they watched Jesus disappear into the clouds at the Ascension. They had abandoned homes and professions in order to become the disciples of a traveling teacher and now they faced a future without him. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his followers he spoke of the Spirit in personal terms. Knowing that his disciples would be grieved by his absence he assures them, “I will not leave you as orphans.” He will not leave his people alone.
At several points in my life I have felt intensely alone, even though I was surrounded by friends and family. A wise spiritual guide once described loneliness at the condition of feeling unknown by others. I can think of times I spent an evening with people who I would call friends and yet came home feeling desperately lonely. The companionship they offered still left me desiring a deeper more fulfilling and sustaining relationship.
In those times I would turn to God resting in the promise that God has searched me and knows me, God discerns my thoughts from afar (Psalm 139). This is one of the ways that the Holy Spirit works in the life of a believer, as a comforting presence who simply is with us in our weakness, grief, and loneliness. In those moments, he assures us that we are not orphans and that we truly belong to God. And yet that is not the only way he ministers to us.
God’s provision is sufficient for us and yet we were not made to live without other human relationships. I grew up singing a worship song with the lyrics, “You’re all I want; You’re all I’ve ever needed; Help me know you are near” but if I was honest I still felt like I wanted and needed more. The truth is that God demonstrates his provision and sufficiency to us through his people.
Here I take comfort from another aspect of Jesus’ promise to the disciples. He doesn’t leave us alone and he doesn’t leave us as orphans. He creates a family for his followers—the Church. When he sent his Holy Spirit to the believers waiting in the upper room on the day of Pentecost they are united in calling, purpose, identity, and mutual love. The first church looked more like a family than any other kind of institution as they shared all they had and cared for each other in self-sacrificial ways.
The Church should still stand out for the peculiar way we care for each other. From the outside no should be able to figure exactly what we have in common or what creates the tight bond we share. From the inside we should be growing and learning in the ways of the Holy Spirit who ministers to us in our loneliness and weakness and fills us up with the abundant resources of God to love each other deeply as one family.
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole family of God. Expect that we will encounter God in deeply personal ways as he assures each person that they are not alone. But also expect the transforming work of the Spirit in our church family as he equips us with his abundant resources to love each other deeply.